Why holding onto the past and in particular resentments, is never a good idea.
One of the greatest mistakes we make in life is trying to fix subsidiary problems without exploring, understanding and tackling the baseline problem from which all the surface level issues arise. It’s a bit like casually yanking out weeds without pulling out the roots. But what is the fundamental human problem, the core issue that lies at the root of our suffering, desires and wants? What is it that really drives human behaviour?
I recently finished reading ’The Teaching of the Bhagavad Gita’ by Swami Dayananda. The first chapter alone beautifully sums up the core human predicament. As I often do when I’m studying books, I attacked the pages with a highlighter pen, and here are some sections that really jumped out at me. I believe Dayananda hits the nail right on the head, and he does so with remarkably eloquent simplicity.
The human mind is a battlefield, a scene of constant conflict. The conflict arises only because choice is possible.
[An animal] lives according to its natural instincts without conflicts. It does not try to be different from what it is, since it does not have a self-consciousness in which it perceives itself as unhappy.
Wishing to be different is peculiar to human beings. Blessed with buddhi, the faculty of the intellect, a human being is not only conscious of the world but also of himself. This is what distinguishes him from the animals. It is the glory of man that he is conscious of himself.
However the self he is aware of is not a complete, adequate self; it is, unfortunately a wanting, inadequate self. [...] This is the source of all conflict.
In its desire to be complete, the mind, which is the platform for all undertakings, [driven by a constant sense of want] becomes a battlefield of conflicting ideas. There is always conflict, demanding solution. The human mind desires to be free from conflict.
When a person wants something, it is not the object that he or she really wants. Rather, by obtaining the object he hopes to be different. I am uneasy because I am not satisfied with myself as I am. Owing to the feeling that all is not well with me, I have to do something to set things right.
What one does to achieve comfort varies from individual to individual. What one wants to acquire or get rid of is determined by one’s values. [But] whatever one does, the droning “I want” remains. This is the fundamental human problem. I long to feel at home, and to feel at peace with myself. Nowhere do I find that peace, because I am conscious of myself as an inadequate being and I cannot be at home with inadequacy. Not knowing how to solve the problem, I run away from it. But nobody has ever solved a problem by escape.
Life is lived in the tension of want and inadequacy. Everyone wants to be different from what he or she is. This is a problem common to every human being.
Solving this problem is the purpose of life.
[Vedanta] addresses itself to the problem of the inadequate self.
So really, the root of all our problems, our conflicts, wants and desires and aversions is this notion we have of ourselves as being an inadequate, lacking, needy little entity, helplessly tossed about by the crashing waves of life. Basically everything we do in life is motivated by the desire to feel whole and complete, to add to ourselves, to validate ourselves and to escape this crippling sense of insufficiency that we all carry inside us, however deeply buried. We deal with this sense of lack by chasing after objects — money, status, relationships, fancy cars and even fancier gadgets. The objects we seek are determined by our own particular values and likes and dislikes. The thing is, no matter what we chase after and perhaps attain, the happiness is only temporary, because we life is in constant flux and we have little control over the objects. Here today, gone tomorrow. Deriving our happiness from such transient things is a surefire recipe for sorrow.
The key to lasting happiness is to get to the root of our problem: this deeply-ingrained sense of inadequacy that silently gnaws away at us. It’s not a personal thing; it’s common to virtually every human being. We need to tackle this unexamined assumption, and that’s where vedanta comes in. Vedanta is neither a religion nor a philosophy, but a pramana, a means of knowledge — in this case self knowledge. What if, contrary to our long-held assumptions, we are not a lacking, inadequate, limited little being, but innately whole, compete, free and boundless? What if, by exploring the unexamined logic of our own experience, we can come to see that the insufficient little person we’ve taken ourselves to be our whole lives is nothing but a false assumption born of ignorance of our true nature?
First of all, a belated happy new year to everyone! The festivities of Christmas and New Year seem like a very distant memory now. It’s been quiet this side for various reasons, but I’m looking forward to getting back to blogging, as I feel I have some cool stuff to share. So watch this space!
First, I wanted to announce that my translation and commentary of the Tao Te Ching has now been published on Amazon Kindle! I’ve been posting the Tao verse by verse over the past year on here, so you’ll maybe already be familiar with the style and approach I’ve adopted. I’ll continue posting the remainder of the verses (I’m still little over halfway through the 81 verses), but if you’d like to read them sooner and have them all to hand, then check out the book!
Blurb: The Tao Te Ching is one of the world’s oldest and most profound pieces of literature. Written around 2,500 years ago by the enigmatic Lao Tzu, its wisdom is timeless and its message just as relevant today. The text, presented here in its entirety with additional commentary on all 81 chapters, is both subtle and expansive. Lao Tzu explores the workings of the cosmos and the natural world, reflecting on the origin and essential nature of mankind. He offers us a better way of living: one that’s free of rigid belief systems, dogma, conflict and the stress and strain of perpetual craving and striving that characterises so many people’s lives.
The Tao Te Ching urges us to live in harmony with the natural flow of life. Tao literally means ‘the way’, and throughout the text Lao Tzu draws parallels between the Tao and the effortless flow of nature. As one verse states: “I drift like a wave on the ocean. I blow as aimless as the wind.” More than just poetic words; they encapsulate the art of living the Tao. When we align ourselves with the flow of life, we relax, let go and find ourselves living with ease, effortlessness, grace and humility.
At the moment it’s only available to download on Kindle, but it will be available elsewhere in the next few weeks, along with a paperback edition and a pocketbook entitled ‘Being The Tao’, which features abridged selections from the commentary.
I originally set out creating my ‘own’ version of the Tao Te Ching around 5 years ago. I’d always been intrigued and compelled by this ancient text, but I struggled with many of the translations. I decided to rearrange the verses in a way that was clear and understandable while preserving the integrity of the original text. What I came up with was a version of the Tao Te Ching that made me nod my head instead of scratch it!
I wrote a short commentary to each verse after spending some time reflecting on Lao Tzu’s often cryptic words. I did this as a way of trying to understand, integrate and assimilate the meaning of the text. I’m really happy to now be able to share it with the world. I’ve already had a lot of positive feedback from the verses I’ve posted on here, so I’m glad to know it’s been of help and interest to others.
The verses and commentaries have been significantly edited and sometimes completely rewritten since I first posted them, often reflecting my growing understanding and ability to communicate some quite difficult, abstract concepts. It’s my hope that this is an easy to read, insightful and inspiring book. It is dedicated to Lao Tzu and all the sages over the millennia who have boldly peered beneath the surface of life in their quest to seek and share the deepest truths and wisdom of life, reality and human nature.
Hope you enjoy.
Hi everyone, hope you have all had a great Christmas/Solstice/festive season. Whenever we approach the end of another year and the beginning of a new one, I usually tend to get a little reflective. I find myself looking back over the previous twelve months, remembering both good times and bad, celebrating the successes and happy memories and sometimes licking my wounds as well. Life is a succession of experiences, some pleasant, some unpleasant and that’s just the nature of the game. The important thing is what we take from the experience and what we become by it. As Aldous Huxley said, “experience is not what happens to you; it’s what you do with what happens to you.”
So here are ten things that I’ve learned in the past twelve months. Many of them I already knew to be fair, but events may have forced a deeper and more profound realisation.
1. Have a purpose and passion. In the words of Swami Vivekananda:
“Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life; dream of it, think of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, the body, muscles, nerves and every part of the body be full of that one idea and leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success, and this is the way great spiritual giants are produced.”
It’s helps to know your desired destination before you hop on the train, and everything else in your life can then be measured in terms of whether it is conducive to your overall purpose. And hey, once you’re on that train you can relax! This purpose, our svadharma, is not something that can be manufactured. It’s built into us; it comes from our essential nature, although social conditioning and the social masks we develop often strip it away from us and we end up living inauthentic lives as inauthentic people. When you’re not true to yourself and living an authentic life that fulfils your dharma, you will suffer.
In the past few months I’ve committed myself to my true purpose, not least because I was left with no other option. I expect that purpose will change and evolve over time, for nothing is static or set in stone. But I’ve had to let go of the winding side paths and find the discipline, courage and energy to commit myself to the road less travelled. Amazingly, all the resources to just do that have almost miraculously appeared. Everything is just flowing perfectly now, and that is a wonder to behold.
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.” William Hutchinson Murray (often attributed to J.W. von Goethe)
2. It’s not up to us. Learning the art of karma yoga — which is an understanding and attitude with which we approach life — continues to be immensely helpful to me. Basically it’s like this: we are responsible for our actions, but we are not responsible for the results of our actions. The results of our actions are never in our hands. It’s up to the field of life and the innumerable factors that comprise that field. Knowing that the results are not up to us, that they’ll be whatever they will be, means that any emotional issues we have about getting what we want are ultimately erroneous.
When this really sinks in — and it does take time! — we automatically relax. We simply do our best in life with what we have. We play our part in the game, and the outcome of the game is up to life. We can take whatever comes, both good and bad (and life is always a mixture of the two) and deal with it in a relaxed and appropriate fashion. Living life as karma yoga is one of the ultimately remedies to stress. It’s all in the attitude.
3. Open your heart, but guard it. I’ve always believed that it’s good to see the best in people and I will always stand by that. However I’ve learned the hard way that you can save yourself a lot of heartache by trying to be objective at the same time. It doesn’t pay to believe everything everyone says just because you want it to be true. See people for what they are and not what you want them to be and proceed accordingly. Don’t seek love. Be love, and give love. Love doesn’t have to mean some notion of ‘romantic love’, it can be expressed in an infinite variety of ways in every single moment.
4. What other people think of us is none of our business. In the words of my teacher James Swartz: “Pack it in! It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks about you. People are going to think what they’re going to think based on their vasanas. You have no control over it, so why are you wasting your time thinking about whether other people like you or not? One minute they’ll love you and the next moment they won’t. It’s totally outside your control. When you know that, you cease caring.” Word!
5. There is no failure; only lessons learned. We learn more from our seeming failures than our successes and often failure has the seeds of success within it, and vice versa. We really can’t judge things, because we can never see the bigger picture. As Rumi said, “failure is the key to the kingdom within”.
6. There’s beauty in everything and everyone. Even if it’s well hidden. And there’s immense beauty in our SELF. Even the simple recognition of it brings something to the world, something the world really needs. It’s a gift to the people we encounter…and to ourselves. See your own beauty. And share it by allowing it to shine.
7. Quit the media. I ceased trusting the mainstream media years ago. Go watch Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent. It’s agenda-driven, manipulating minds, belief systems, worldviews, and driven by the nefarious interests of a select few. I have a few alternative news sites I trust and generally I find out what I need to find out. I also feel much better when I resist the urge to read ‘comments’ sections on websites, because people write so much crap and behave in such childish moronic ways that I find it quite depressing! Media fasts are genuinely great for creativity and good for the soul too.
9. Never underestimate the power of a peaceful mind. Samhkya philosophy states there are three states of mind: tamasic, rajasic and sattvic. A tamasic mind is dull, heavy and prone to lethargy, ignorance and laziness (kind of the state of mind when you have a stinker of a hangover). A rajasic mind is always active, always anxious, restless and chasing after things (when you just can’t settle down and your mind is moving a mile a minute — that’s rajas at work). The ideal state is sattvic, which is characterised by balance, harmony, peace, equanimity and clarity. Unlike the other two states, a sattvic mind is a clear mind, and we need a clear mind in order to effectively deal with, assimilate and resolve our experiences.
Most of our problems stem from excess rajas and tamas and too little sattva — we get into trouble because we’re not adequately dealing with what life brings our way for lack of a clear mind. The gunas can be managed by lifestyle, diet, exercise, meditation and modifying one’s life appropriately to cultivate a clear, peaceful, calm mind. This really is one of the greatest things you can do for yourself, and indeed others. Whenever we’re feeling stressed, anxious and perturbed it’s impossible to think clearly, so we don’t adequately respond to what’s coming our way. There’s immense value to taking responsibility for our state of mind. It can literally make or break us. I’ve learned it’s vital to get myself to a peaceful and relaxed place, regardless of what’s going on around me, and learn to stay there as much as I can.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Viktor Frankl
10. Forget the past. It’s gone, over, dead. It exists as nothing but a thought in your mind amid hundreds of thousands of other thoughts. Let it go, or it’ll drag you down. Every day, every hour, every moment, we are born anew. Life is can be ever-fresh, vital and exciting when we choose to experience it as such. 2014 is an exciting new chapter, and I for one am looking forward to it!
Thanks for reading, take care and wishing you all a very happy new year!
- 44 -
Which is more important, your honour or your life?
Which is more valuable, your possessions or your person?
Which is more destructive, success or failure?
Excessive love for things exacts a great cost.
If your happiness depends on accumulating wealth,
you will never truly be happy.
What you gain is more trouble
than what you lose.
Be content with what you have;
realise that nothing is lacking.
If you know when to stop,
the whole world belongs to you.
The greatest secret in the world is simply this: happiness and fulfilment, which everyone basically spends their life striving toward, can never be found outside of oneself.
The delusion that we need external success, renown, fame and wealth in order to be happy is a lie. In spite of our culture’s fixation with celebrities and their extravagant lifestyles, we still haven’t figured that these people are usually just as dysfunctional and unhappy as the average person — and very often more so. Although it’s plain to see that fame and wealth do not in themselves bring happiness, many people are still focused on chasing these seductive phantasms.
Changing our perspective can change our experience of life in an instant. Why buy into the mass delusion that the more we gain the happier we’ll be? Lao Tzu suggests that the more we have, the more trouble we often experience. The moment we’ve attained or acquired something, we immediately have the stress of having to hold onto it! I’m always fascinated by stories of lottery winners who suddenly find themselves with more money than they know what to do with, only to find that their euphoria is quite short-lived. In a number of cases they actually end up worse off than they were before.
The Roman philosopher and statesman Cicero once remarked that “to be content with what we possess is the greatest and most secure of riches.”
Know when to stop, and see how life blossoms in the most unexpected ways. Happiness is no longer some obscure object of pursuit, but a reflection of our true nature.
No one can give you the love you deny yourself. It’s not out there. In fact, in your own direct experience there is no ‘out there’ because everything you experience, you experience in you, in your own consciousness/awareness.
The love you want is here. In this moment. Now.
Don’t rely on others to reveal to you your beauty. That’s not their job and even if it was, most people are incapable of doing so. You have to see it for yourself. And see it in others, too. They’ll love you for it. But you’ll no longer be dependent on their love because you know that it’s a fire that burns within you.
Why holding onto the past and in particular resentments, is never a good idea.
- 43 -
The gentlest of all things;
that which offers no resistance,
can overcome the hardest of things.
That which has no substance
can enter where there is no space.
Hence I know the value of non-action.
Few things are as instructive
as the lessons of silence.
Teaching without words,
performing without actions -
few in the world can grasp it -
that is the Sage’s way.
The wisdom of the Tao Te Ching contradicts just about everything we’re taught and conditioned to believe in. Therefore this realisation of truth does not perhaps come easily or readily to us. We’re brought up to believe that strength and brute force is the hallmark of true power and that decisive action, and even violence at times, are necessary to overcome obstacles.
Lao Tzu asks us to consider the opposite. The wisdom of the Tao is based upon observation of the natural world. Nature doesn’t try to do anything and it doesn’t have to force or conquer or take action to sustain itself. Everything happens through non-action. It happens because it is its nature to happen. Nature operates through effortless effort.
The question is, can we do the same? Can we let go of our propensity to manipulate and mould the outer world and the conditions of our life to conform to how our minds tell us they ‘should’ be? Can we come to realise and embody the virtue of non-action?
After all, in spite of the best efforts of mind and ego, we are not so much doings as we are happenings. With this realisation, we can perhaps surrender to the flow of life as it happens around, through and within us.
- 41 -
When a wise man hears of the Tao,
he immediately begins to live it.
When an average man hears of the Tao,
he believes some of it and doubts the rest.
When a foolish man hears of the Tao,
he laughs out loud at the very idea.
If it were not for that laugh,
it would not be the Tao.
Thus it is said:
the path into light seems dark,
the path forward seems like retreat,
the superior path seems empty,
the easy way seems hard,
the pure seems tarnished,
true power seems weak,
true clarity seems obscure,
true virtue seems insufficient,
the greatest sounds cannot be heard,
the greatest form is shapeless.
The Tao is hidden and nameless;
Yet it alone nourishes and completes all things.
If we don’t first realise the truth in ourselves, then we won’t be able to recognise it any place else. Bearing that in mind, the wisest sage in the world will sound like a fool if it’s a fool who’s listening. Some people have the ability to recognise words of truth and wisdom, while others might find them harder to grasp and still others scoff and dismiss those very same words out of hand. Lao Tzu suggests that it’s part of the balance of the Tao that those who ignorantly scoff live alongside those with the capacity to realise truth. It also pays to remember that at some point we’ve all played the fool.
This verse also points out the seeming paradox of authentic awakening, or ‘the path into light’. There’s nothing glitzy or glamorous about it and it’s rarely as rapturous or mystical as we might expect. It may in fact seem more like diminishment than gain. It’s often more of a destructive process than a constructive one. We’re not trying to add anything to ourselves to make us more, different or better; rather we’re scraping away all the illusions and obstructions that prevent us from experiencing reality and our self as it is, free of distortion, conditioning and mental filters.
It’s more a process of dissolution than expansion; of letting go rather than of attaining. It’s rarely the way the mind thinks it ‘should’ be, and such is the way of life! That’s why it’s important to take time out every so often to go beyond the mind and rest in the vast sea of emptiness/fullness at the core of our being. As Lao Tzu says,“it alone nourishes and completes all beings”.
Hello! I’ve been trying to get blogging again for some time now, but haven’t felt clear on what I wanted to say. In the new year I’m going to relaunch the blog and share my journey studying vedanta as taught by a traditional vedanta teacher, James Swartz. Not all that many people have heard of vedanta, although some may be familiar with advaita, the principal ‘school’ of vedanta as taught by Adi Shankara in the 8th century. Vedanta is neither a religion or a philosophy but what is called in Sanskrit a ‘pramana’, a means of knowledge. What kind of knowledge? The only kind of knowledge that can set you free in life; Self Knowledge.
It’s an been an incredible journey. I’d been wading through the ‘spiritual maya’ for the best part of a lifetime, certain that there was more to this reality and to us as human beings than is perceptible to the body/mind sense complex, but unable to find a teaching that connected all the dots. In the west there’s just too much fuzzy-thinking, half truths and new age-ified nonsense to make proper sense of it. Elements of truth are invariably sandwiched between falsity and ignorance. And that’s before we even go near religion!
I’d seen and experienced the bigger reality countless times but was not at all clear on how to reconcile it with the apparent reality. So it was with an immense sense of relief and gratitude that I found perhaps the clearest, most comprehensive and logical teaching with regard to self realisation and enlightenment. It’s about as close to a science of consciousness as there is; working on so many levels, from the grossest to the subtlest, taking into account every facet of our nature. It’s the foundation of what Aldous Huxley called the ‘perennial philosophy’ and elements of it can be found in every age and in every culture. But in order to make full sense of it the full system has to be in place. You need the whole picture to be able to put the puzzle together.
This is why vedanta has been closely guarded over the millennia, and passed from generation to generation via Sanskrit mantras, an unchanging and extremely precise language, in a way that was incorruptible and time-locked (just the way this teaching has been preserved and transmitted is astounding). I love it. It’s changed everything for me. It takes a heck of a lot of time and effort to assimilate what is essentially quite a radical vision of nonduality, but the knowledge works bit by bit, chipping away the hard-wired ignorance that compels us to seek wholeness and happiness outwith our self. As Arthur Schopenhauer stated: “in the whole world there is no study so beneficial and so elevating as that of the vedanta. It has been the solace of my life — it will be the solace of my death.”
It’s set up a particular way and needs to be taught from the beginning to the end as it runs through a precise sequence of logic. It requires a great deal of the inquirer and a list of ‘qualifications’ or requirements are listed that have to be met if the teaching is going to mean anything. This simply highlights the necessity of an open, inquiring, discriminating and dispassionate mind. It’s also necessary to have dropped the notion that anything in maya, the apparent reality, can bring lasting happiness.
It took me a great many years in the hamster wheel of maya before I realised the utterly futility go trying to extract lasting, unchanging happiness and fulfilment from experiences, objects and people, relationships etc. Everything in maya is in a constant state of flux. The thing, event or person that brings me joy today is just as likely to bring me misery tomorrow. But finding the changeless amid the changing and placing our sense of fulfilment, security and joy upon THAT is the real key to making life work. I was so thoroughly sick of the painful nature of samsara, of seeking happiness in things that didn’t and could never last. I failed so miserably that it ignited in me a burning desire to break free of the matrix; a deeply-rooted desire to discover the true nature of my self and reality and to achieve what in vedanta is called moksha or liberation. Liberation is being free of dependence on anything outside of us for our happiness and fulfilment.
One of the most sobering but important realisations I gained from vedanta is simply this: the objective world/maya is not set up to fulfil you. It’s set up to frustrate and break you until you wake up to the true nature of your Self; until you realise that the subjective reality — that which is You — transcends the objective. When you know you are and really assimilate that knowledge into the core of your being, you’re free of whatever shit is going on around — and indeed within — you. You see life as the strange dreamlike show that it is; an appearance in awareness, always changing, always unfolding according to its nature, and while we have a limited ability to change and manipulate certain aspects of the show, ultimately things just do what they’re going to do, regardless of our desires and aversions. Phenomenal reality is governed by its own set of laws and an unfathomable chain of interrelated causes and effects over which we have no control.
The main cause of human suffering is expecting reality to conform to our likes and dislikes and our notions of what it should be. Because life doesn’t give a damn what we like or dislike. It’s a completely impersonal unfolding. It does what it does, based upon the nature of the field. Vedanta is for mature minds, advising us to get with the system and bring ourselves and our lives and actions in harmony with the nature of the field (dharma) and our own nature (svadharma), or else be ground down by life and suffer accordingly.
Life isn’t about what ‘I’ want; it’s about aligning myself with what life wants. The field of life is bigger than the little human ego and has no qualms in grinding that little ego to bits. Suffering drives us to seek an end to suffering, to seek liberation from the pain. The solution is not to try to control maya and try to match it up to our likes and dislikes — which are always changing anyway. That’s a fool’s game and it never works for very long.
It was kind of crushing at first when I first realised what an utterly futile endeavour that was. How many times can you chase after love and success only for it backfire and end in tears before you realise that if it was gonna work out, it would have done so long before now. You can’t beat the system — life is what it is and it does what it is. But you can transcend the system…and the power of Self Knowledge changes one’s outlook on everything. Outwardly nothing changes, but inwardly everything changes.
More words will follow!